Lawrence Vale

I saw Lawrence Vale this afternoon at the Urban Studies Annual Lecture. He provided a thoughtful comparison between the initial burst of public housing in American cities and the recent demolition of these same projects. It was an impressive talk, considering how much he covered in such a short time.

My question, had I the courage to ask it amidst a mutinous undergraduate crowd:

Most of the public housing built was accompanied by various institutions: health centers, rec centers, schools; planners incorporated some of these institutions into their designs while others came from external agencies. What happened to these resources when the PJs came down? Had they already become irrelevant? Have they been renegotiated and given a new lease? Have they been destroyed along with the rest of the development?

He talked some about the social networks and acknowledged different viewpoints about the social capital in public housing (some have claimed that any new housing would be better) but it seems to me that at least some of the answer lies with the fate of these “other” institutions.

Another Report

This report, released this October, seems pretty interesting. Any publication that has this paragraph in its introduction has already won me over:

Better teaching, in the long run, will come not just from attracting a strong pool of talent and giving them boosts in pay, but from changing the nature of the job. And the teaching profession is in many ways defined by the way schools are designed. Today, most teachers’ work is isolated and fragmented, with no defined pathways for career development, few mechanisms for feedback, and a schedule that is disconnected from the reality of what teachers actually do and what students actually need. As a result, many schools are insufficiently attractive to talented professionals, and they squander the talent of those they manage to employ.

I downloaded the whole report here..

Letter I liked

Joanne Yatvin, already possessing superhero status for her minority report in response to the NRP, posted this letter to the NYT after another misguided editorial about what teachers can or cannot do:

Nicholas D. Kristof reads America’s problems backward in declaring, “We can’t fight poverty without reforming education.” The fact is, we can’t reform education without fighting poverty. Disabled schools are just one product of governments at all levels that fail to provide impoverished families and communities with the resources to raise and educate children successfully.

Arne Duncan takes on schools of ed

The full speech from Secretary Duncan is here.

I agree with portions of it —

“In all but a few states, education schools act as the Bermuda Triangle of higher education—students sail in but no one knows what happens to them after they come out. No one knows which students are succeeding as teachers, which are struggling, and what training was useful or not.”

“In far too many universities, education schools are the neglected stepchild. Often they don’t attract the best students or faculty. The programs are heavy on educational theory–and light on developing core area knowledge and clinical training under the supervision of master teachers.”

Here’s the problem, though…you can’t ask teacher colleges to “become more rigorous and clinical, much like other graduate programs, if we are going to create that new army of teachers” without offering some kind of support. Schools of education serve various roles on campus — cash cows being the most important — but pooping on them won’t make a difference. What will you offer in their place?

And this idea highlights a deeply entrenched fallacy about teacher education programs:

But I’d like to see high-quality alternative pathways for aspiring teachers, like the New Teacher Project and Teach for America, expand in coming years, too. We need to use every high-quality avenue possible to recruit teachers, whether they are older, successful adults interested in taking a new career path through programs like Troops for Teachers or college seniors applying to Teach for America.

All of these high-quality alternative pathways still require students to either attend graduate school while teaching or to do so sometime within the first five years of their teaching. Alternative pathways basically means “take classes at night while you’re exhausted from teaching all day.”

Re-negotiating this paradigm would require:
*ending teacher certification
*eliminating universities as the gatekeepers of the teacher certification process.

I’m down for either — how about a school, run by an LEA in conjunction with the state, that certified teachers based on their performance in the classroom and the work they did to support their teaching?

What is the university?

I liked this letter, both for its style and its description of how a university functions:

The university is essentially a medieval institution, a bazaar of intellectual goods hawked by hoary promulgators of many divergent truths. It mysteriously produces, after four years, educated people — university graduates. No one has ever figured out another way to do this. However, the university cannot survive without government funding (replacing the church support of medieval times), contingent upon compliance with an array of complex regulations and laws. This has given rise to an entrenched quasi-governmental bureaucracy of managers.

The tenure system — antiquated, ritualistic and of course unfair — by its very quirkiness protects the academic side from being engulfed by the administrative side, as does the independence of departments. Without these inefficiencies, universities would become little better than branches of government, and the variegated thread to our cultural past would be broken. As long as we don’t tamper too much with the core model, we can limp along and pass something of value on to our children, so they can complain bitterly, in their turn, about the cumbersome, inefficient, unfair and bizarre institution called “the university” (and become educated in the process).


I received this email this morning.

Good afternoon. You are invited to participate in the Take a Parent to Work Event on Friday, October 23rd between 2 and 4 pm. This is an excellent opportunity for parents to see the work of some of our staff and how it relates to what is being done in our schools.

Afterward, we will have a fashion show in which parents and District staff will model donated clothes from the closets of our Superintendent, Dr. Arlene C. Ackerman, and the staff at 440. Please contact Pat Gamarra at 215-400-6538 or if you are interested in participating in either event.

Space is limited, call ASAP.

Quibila A. Divine
The School District of Philadelphia
Office of Parent, Family, and Community Engagement

Richard Holbrooke quote

So in this article, George Packer asks Richard Holbrooke to describe how he runs his office:

Holbrooke described his method to me as “a form of democratic centralism, where you want open airing of views and opinions and suggestions upward, but once the policy’s decided you want rigorous, disciplined implementation of it. And very often in the government the exact opposite happens. People sit in a room, they don’t air their real differences, a false and sloppy consensus papers over those underlying differences, and they go back to their offices and continue to work at cross-purposes, even actively undermining each other.

It’s the second part that sounds so familiar to me; it’s as if he sat in on most “leadership team” meetings in schools or really in any educational bureaucracy. Replace “government” with “Local High School X” and his description is right on target.

You must eat, little one

I don’t quite understand this story: the Superintendent has declared that principals will be measured by how many children eat breakfast each morning.

So…we wake up every morning and cook breakfast for our kids and their school will be punished because they didn’t come to eat in the school cafeteria? I don’t understand. Is this something that downtown will use to blame principals when their school is under-performing?

(Sidebar: in some ways, this threat is indicative of how school reform proceeds in general: you can’t treat all of the kids in Philly as if they come from the same homes. There are definitely some families and kids who would benefit from being coerced into having breakfast at school. But there are also families who have structured their lives to spend as much time as possible with their kids and who have no intention of giving up the morning meal. You can’t treat all communities in the same way.)

Look for letters weds

So there’s a great editorial in Monday’s times detailing the joke that is the grading profess for standardized tests. I’m sure this going to be a fun book to read as well, even though I can’t believe anyone will truly be surprised by how inherently flawed the evaluative process actually is.

By Weds, we should have at least two letters from testing companies excoriating the writer, one letter from an outraged governmental official, and one letter from a good hippie professor commending the author.